Hundred Highways Tour #49, 50: M-13, M-84 to Bemo’s Bar

Sitting with the Northwoods Improvisors (Mike Johnston on bass)

Sitting in with the Northwoods Improvisers (Mike Johnston on bass)

I didn’t plan it this way and I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but it’s perfectly fitting that I completed the first half of the Hundred Highways Tour in my birthplace of Bay City, Michigan. My show would have only taken me on my 49th highway, but I missed my turn (yes, in the town where I grew up), and ended up coming through the backdoor of M-84 to end up at Bemo’s, my favorite Bay City bar (now that the Old Bar is long gone).

The show was fantastic thanks in large part to the amazing crowd of family and friends who came out for it. Also, having my brother/comrade Todd Berner open for me was perfect. He’s a hell of a songwriter and sounded great. Later, his set with Alyssa Diaz held the room in awe.

The absolute highlight of the evening (or maybe the entire tour so far) was sitting in during Northwoods Improvisors’ set. This trio of mind and soul-bending artists: Mike Gilmore (vibraphones, marimba, cheng, guitar, saz, percussion), Mike Johnston (bass, wood flutes, percussion) and Nick Ashton (drums, percussion), inspire me like no other living musicians do. It was an honor to be able to introduce their music to some new people, and then to share a new poem while they played an Alice Coltrane piece — wow!
The poem is from a new project I hope to record called From Coltrane to Coal Train: An Eco-Jazz Suite. Here’s the piece we debuted:

Communion

“All a musician can do
is to get closer to the sources of nature,
and so feel that he is in communion
with the natural laws.”
– John Coltrane
spoke these words, 1962
the same year a German coal mine explodes
killing 299 and John Glenn orbits the earth
dancing through “fireflies” of ice
the Centralia coal mine fire begins to burn
decimating two towns & likely to continue
burning for 250 more years and Bob Dylan
first sings “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”
& 50 years later
I sit outside this bar
in a brief respite between coal trains
listening to the sparrows
discuss a coming storm
the willow across the road
dances out the same message
the aspens of the courtyard
sigh their thirst,
soon to be slated

I’d like to go in for another beer
But the earth’s music is too compelling

All any of us can do
(as the first rain drops fall)
is to get closer to the sources of nature
(as the birds fall silent)
& so feel we are in communion
w/ the natural laws
(even though what I first take for thunder
is instead the next train
rounding the bend)

[More reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here]

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Hundred Highways Tour #45 – 48: M-25, I-75, I-23, M-14 to Bookbound

When I was in college at a small school in a mid-Michigan cornfield, my best friend was at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was the poor kid who wanted to transfer there, but knew I could never afford it. It was my Christminster (if that’s not too obscure (hint-hint) of a reference).

Ann Arbor was where I got hipped to social and political activism in the form of the anti-apartheid movement, to the overwhelming amount of what there was to possibly learn in the form of the endless stacks at the graduate library, to the wonders of mind-expanding substances in the form of a little baggie of Pinconning Paralyzer in Mary Markley Hall. It was also where I discovered and fell in love with independent bookstores.

Places like Shaman Drum, West Side Bookshop, Wooden Spoon Books, Crazy Wisdom, David’s Books, and the original Borders — before they sold to K-Mart and the corporate suits did what they always do to a cultural institution. (Sadly, the stores I just listed that don’t have links are no longer with us).

On this visit, nearly 30 years after those days, I had the great pleasure to read at a new Ann Arbor bookstore, Bookbound. The owner’s Peter and Megan Blackshear were fantastically welcoming and friendly. The crowd was small, but a chance to reunite with some great old friends – one of whom, Monica Rico, was one of the Saginista poets of the Red Eye poetry scene back in Saginaw (read her work!), another was my friend Kevin from the pow-wow circuit days who was with me at the beginning and end of several of the road trips in Vagabond Song.

After the reading, there were drinks and more drinks with great friends (Good Ol’ Nats), new and old. The next day, I visited some of the other bookstores in town and kicked around the art fair, where I bought a new hat. Just in time to wear for my next reading, that night at Bemo’s Bar in Bay City (the subject of the next report from the Hundred Highways Tour).

newhat

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Hundred Highways Tour #43, #44: I-90 & US 2 to the GetLit! Festival

DSCN1667A short jump from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane for the GetLit! Fest. Too much free wine, too nice of a hotel and a fantastic downtown/park. Mostly I walked around being surprised by how nice of a city this is. I’d only visited once before, and that was just to fill a U-Haul truck with boxes of my cousin Doug Peacock‘s book, Walking It Off. The press that published it was getting the axe, so we bought up all their stock. I was in town only long enough to load up.

So it was great to be able to spend a few days and realize how much this city has going on. After my reading at the festival, sharing a stage with a fantastic memoirist, Julie Riddle, who’s book The Solace of Stones is a powerfully honest look at childhood, wilderness and the endless paradox of Montana, someone asked me if I’d been to the waterfall yet. I had seen signs for it in the park and for some reason pictured a small run of whitewater cascading over rocks, maybe a couple dozens yards worth of drop — pretty, but not a huge priority.

Why that was my assumption, I have no idea. I’d forgotten the importance of remaining open to everything while on the road (0r anywhere for that matter). But, if someone says, “you should go see this,” it’s important to remember the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

DSCN1697[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Hundred Highways Tour #38 – 42: US 93, MT 200, MT Secondary 471, NF 9, I-90 to The Well-Read Moose

photo by Lisa Beaudin

photo by Lisa Beaudin

Since my reading the night before at Fact & Fiction was followed by some serious bar-hopping and it being pointed out to me that at midnight, it officially became my birthday, we ended up get a late start to head to Coeur d’Alene for a gig at The Well-Read Moose. But we still were able to take back roads. Cutting north on 93 passing near the Garden of One-thousand Buddhas at Arlee and passing numerous road signs in Salish and Kootenai languages. The languages use characters and symbols far beyond my word processing skills, but their English translations are fantastic: “Place Where You Surround Something” and “Little Valley Behind Hills.”

After a road drink in Thompson Falls, we crossed a mountain pass that threw us back into winter. The Midwesterner in me still has trouble fathoming severe snow and ice conditions in April, but we got lucky and were able to make it through, dropping into Idaho, and eventually into “Heart of the Awl.” Rather than try to tell you about the drive, here’s my birthday poem for this year that I finished a day later in a Spokane bar:

Birthday Poem, 2016

Let’s begin the day
listening to Brahms in a Missoula hotel room
then the drive
along the spring roiling of the Flathead River
with tongues of fog lolling up from mouths of fir trees
to taste the sky

Let’s stop at a bar in Thompson Falls
empty but for a daytime card game
of somebodies’ grandmothers
to have a pint & find out if the pass is open–
snow & rain & elk & a wild turkey
at the roadside like a desolate hitchhiker–
but drivable if we take it slow

& the confusion of west-flowing rivers
in place of my habitual eastbound ones

Yesterday, a coyote on the median
testing the limits of mortality
& the physics of steel,
Tomorrow, a dark corner bar in Spokane
with bad music & too many TVs
But today,
as soaring as the Brahms
as delicate as the fog,
to be here with the woman I love
with bellies full of sushi
& the lights of Coeur d’Alene seeping
through the blinds &
painting our bodies in joy

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Dying City

Dying City by Christopher Shinn
Caldera Theatre Company, 2016
Directed and designed by Marc Beaudin

Click image for full photo gallery.

Click image for full photo gallery.

Director’s Note from the program:

For us at the CTC, theatre as an artform doesn’t happen on the stage or in the actors’ imaginations. Rather it exists in the moment of communication between us and you. In the connection between actor and audience – the two coming together to create the reality of a moment, art happens. Television has viewers, sports events have spectators, but the theatre has participants. By choosing to accept our offer to come together in a certain place and time, to add your imaginations, memories, emotions and dreams to the cauldron, together we brew something magical, rare and beautiful: Truth.

In this play, the truth of these characters’ lives is evasive. It flashes in unexpected places, it fails to reside where we expect it to, it slips from our grasp when we most think we have hold of it. Mostly, it swims deep below the surface of what is spoken.

Kelly’s truth collides with that of Peter, her deceased husband’s twin. In flashback scenes, it’s Kelly and Craig’s truths that collide. All these truths are at odds with those of unseen (but heavily felt) parents, lovers, co-workers and patients – as well as the great (un)truth of the Iraq War.

But there is another truth at play here: the truth of being fully aware, in the moment. That’s what we seek, with your help, to create. What we find in that moment might be painful, it might be funny or difficult or confusing or upsetting or inspiring – but this is why we have theatre. To ask questions that may confound us, to explore the darkness because, paradoxically, that’s where the light is to be found. As Socrates reminds us, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Thank you for joining in our examination and for making the life of this moment worth the living.

A note on the set design:

The world of these characters, defined by the floor rug and the lighting, hovers within the void. Beyond Kelly’s apartment is darkness: the dark unknown of war, failed love, the past, the future – the door to the outside world. Memories, hopes and fears emerge from the void and return to it. Kelly and Peter are surrounded by it, compelled by it, but powerless against it. Craig is both of it and not of it. The only thing on the set that rests in the void but connects into the apartment is the television – offering a relationship to the world beyond the void. But is it a true offer, or just another lie? Is it connection or anethesia?

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Hundred Highways Tour #36, 37: I-90 & U.S. 12 to Fact and Fiction Books

Photo by Lisa Beaudin

We planned on taking back roads, maybe 141 to 200 so we could pass through Avon and Ovando, or maybe 1 to 38 to 93 to find road drinks in Porters Corner or Victor. But by the time we got out the door, we had just enough time to race on the interstate unfreeway, straight to our hotel in Missoula, a block away from the reading at Fact & Fiction.

We arrived with a few minutes to spare: enough to run across the street to grab two bottles of wine to share with the small but friendly crowd. One of the wines was named “Duct Tape” and tasted as bad as it sounds, but I had to get it anyway in honor of the line from my poem “M-46, October”:

Clyde’s old diesel rolls to a wary stop
& I hop from the cab
onto a protest of gravel
beneath my duct-taped boots

The store is a good reminder of how fantastic and vital our local, independent bookshops are. The shelves are packed with books that go much deeper than the generic quick reads of box stores or malls. “Local author” tags protrude from everywhere. Barbara and Mara are more than welcoming and, as with indie shops across the country, I feel at home. All those local author signs represent the important bond between writers and bookstores; both help make a town vibrant, both need each other to thrive. As a writer, I can’t say enough about booksellers who support writers. As a bookseller, I can’t say enough about the authors who support my store, Elk River Books.

Photo by Nathan Snow

Photo by Nathan Snow

We finished the night at a downtown bar, ringing in my birthday with $6 pitchers of PBR and an unbelievably delicious shot of Jameson compliments of my stepson and his friends who took turns rocking the karaoke machine and commanding the dance floor. I successfully avoided the former, but have a vague memory of visiting the latter.

In the morning, or rather afternoon, I packed by road case and we headed north.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

 

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Birthday Poem 2016

Birthday Poem, 2016

Let’s begin the day
listening to Brahms in a Missoula hotel room
then the drive
along the spring roiling of the Flathead River
with tongues of fog lolling up from mouths of fir trees
to taste the sky

Let’s stop at a bar in Thompson Falls
empty but for a daytime card game
of somebodies’ grandmothers
to have a pint & find out if the pass is open–
snow & rain & elk & a wild turkey
at the roadside like a desolate hitchhiker–
but drivable if we take it slow

& the confusion of west-flowing rivers
in place of my habitual eastbound ones

Yesterday, a coyote on the median
testing the limits of mortality
& the physics of steel,
Tomorrow, a dark corner bar in Spokane
with bad music & too many TVs
But today,
as soaring as the Brahms
as delicate as the fog,
to be here with the woman I love
with bellies full of sushi
& the lights of Coeur d’Alene seeping
through the blinds &
painting our bodies in joy

–Marc Beaudin, 14 April 2016

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Hundred Highways Tour #26 – 35: I-90, MT 84, U.S. 191, U.S. 20, I-15, MT 41, MT 287, MT 55 & MT 2 to King’s English Bookshop

2016-03-08 06.46.21

On the return trip (photo by Lisa Beaudin)

Once again rolling alongside the Gallatin River and skirting the western edge of Yellowstone, back to Salt Lake. This time it’s for a reading at the King’s English Bookshop.

This is one of the great independent bookstores that you can wander and browse, losing hours (and sometimes getting physically lost as well). Room after room of great books that make you wish you had extra lifetimes just for reading.

2016-03-07 02.16.59
This was my third visit to Salt Lake City, but my first to the actual lake. There’s something quietly unsettling about a lake with no fish. Other than brine shrimp and a few other tiny critters, nothing lives in these waters, nothing else can survive. Just knowing that makes standing at its shore disorienting and trepidatious. It’s stunningly beautiful, but it’s a otherworldly beauty — lunar, alien.

And deadly.

As climate change dries the surrounding land and a growing population diverts more and more water otherwise destined for the it, the lake is disappearing before our eyes. As it turns to dust, its high levels of trapped mercury blow into the city, poisoning the people who are taking the water that, had it been allowed to replenish the lake, would have prevented the poison dust from developing. The same mercury is moving up the food chain, from brine shrimp to ducks to the hunter feeding his family. Strands of the web. It’s impossible to cut one strand without feeling the vibrations throughout the entire, interwoven structure. Or as Barry Commoner says, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

2016-03-07 02.19.24

 

When the lake becomes dust
& the dust enters the rivers of our blood
no fish will swim through our bodies
no birds will fly through our dreams

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Hundred Highways Tour #22 – 25: Northern, Western, Hummingbird & Southern Highways to Miss Bertie’s Community Library

Berties72
A couple days after Christmas, my family and I flew into Belize and jumped into a van that took us, three hours later, to Hopkins Village, on the Caribbean coast. The drive, first on the Northern Highway, then the Western to one of my favorite names for a road, the Hummingbird Highway, finally to the Southern Highway, was an adventure of potholes, jungle-clad mountains, “sleeping policeman” (the ubiquitous, teeth-shattering speed bumps that are the only method of getting drivers to slow down) and an unending narrative of jokes, puns, history and legends from our driver.

He told us that in Belize, they’re not very creative with town names. The town with many ladies is called Ladyville. The town that sprung up from refuges of Hurricane Hattie is called Hattieville. The town with a lot of rocks is called Rockville. I asked him if there were a lot of frogs in Hopkins. … It took him a minute.

I wasn’t here for a reading, so it’s a little tricky on my part to include this on the Hundred Highways Tour. But I did visit Miss Bertie’s Community Library where Dianne had me sign a copy of Vagabond Song to add to the library’s collection (and besides, it’s my tour – I make the rules).

This beautiful little gem of books was created by “Miss Bertie,” a Peace Corps volunteer, in 2007 and has been serving both the children and adults of Hopkins ever since. It was great to visit and see the single room building full of kids after school, discovering new worlds within the pages of the mostly donated books. A library is the heart of a community. A communal gathering place where people can become stronger, more human (and humane). Where life can take on new vistas, horizons can be rendered boundless.

I hope you’ll consider helping their cause. A single book can change someone forever.

Sacred fountain in Xibalba

A highlight of the trip was floating an underground river in St. Herman’s Cave. Descending into Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld, the flickering of bats, the crystal clear water. At one point, I stopped below a shower dripping from a stalactite and allowed the holy water to wash over my face. Our guide, Vida, noticed me and said, “Getting a good Mayan blessing, huh?” He knew exactly what I was up to.

In the rainforest along the Monkey River, with Howler Monkeys filling the air with their mad whooping, I resisted the temptation to wander off from our group and become a little creature of the jungle. Maybe a jaguarundi or a paca, the “royal rat.” The immensity of green, the water-soaked air, and the glittering of sunlight through twenty-foot leaves quickly cast their spell. I was spell-bound. A month later, the charm has yet to fully wear off.

New Years Eve at the Swinging Armadillo
     Hopkins Village, Belize

Half-moon rising from the sea:
a bowl of oranges & black flowers
on a tablecloth of stars

Garifuna drummers pounding out
the final moments of the year
hearts become drums with hides stretched taut

Soon winter will feel like winter again
but for now everything is music
& waves unfold on the dock like orchids

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Photo by Lisa Beaudin

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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I Don’t Want to Go Out, I Want to Stay In

Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie.

It’s a rare artist who can so completely fill up a day’s worth of social media news feed. It’s a rare artist whose death can so completely fill up my emotional landscape. Right before turning out the bedside lamp last night, my wife told me the news. Thoughts and memories tumbled into dreams and I woke this morning with “The Man Who Sold the World” running relentlessly through my head.

All day, whether through our stereo speakers or just within my own skull, his masterful, eminently original music has been playing non-stop. Sadly, until his death hit me, I had forgotten how much his art meant to me. With a handful of exceptions, it’s been years since I’ve really listened to him. I used his cover of “Cactus” as curtain call music in a play I directed. I tried to show Labyrinth to my step-kids, but the lack of CGI failed to impress. I picked up a copy of Bowie at the Beeb, a compilation of his BBC recordings, some time last year and gave it a couple of listens. But that’s about it.

Until now.

A day of listening, of mourning, of celebrating the gift of his time here on earth, and the memories come flooding.

In high school, I was never popular. I never quite fit in, and mostly, that’s how I preferred it. While most of my class was listening to Boston, Def Leppard and Motley Crue (umlauts somewhere, whatever), I was in my room blasting cassettes of Ziggy Stardust and Let’s Dance. These recordings opened up a new world to me. A strange, beautiful, dangerous, forbidden and sexy world. Somehow I knew that if not liking the crap on the “rock” radio station that dominated the student parking lot made me an outsider, a weirdo, a freak, then being an outsider/weirdo/freak was a damn good thing to be.

Eventually, there were a handful of us. We wore strange clothes. We grew our hair long (and got beat up for it more than once). We listened to music that wasn’t on the radio. We pushed boundaries and found a world of relevance and authenticity beyond. It was this group of friends, gathered together by artists like Bowie, that led me into art, poetry, political and social activism, and other music beyond the mainstream – blues, folk, and eventually jazz.

Bowie never settled for safe, mainstream, normal, ordinary. In pushing beyond boundaries, he taught us all how to be artists. For that, I honor him, will miss him greatly, and will keep listening. He told us we could be heroes, we believed him, and he was right.

 

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